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Blotanical: A Virtual Gardening Community

October 18, 2009

imageA few weeks into my blogging experience, when I had the basics under control, I started looking around for ways to reach potential readers; and, like many bloggers, I discovered blog directories as one way to do this. One directory that I found my way to was Blotanical, which specializes in garden blogs. Blotanical is the brainchild of Australian gardener and garden blogger, Stuart Robinson, and it seems to be unique in its focus on putting garden bloggers from around the globe in touch with one another. Blotanical is not just a blog directory; it is a virtual gardening community.

This community aspect of Blotanical brought together my gardening self and my sociologist self. As every sociologist knows, you have to have people interacting with one another to have a community; and to interact, people have to be able to predict how others will respond to them. In most communities, people in face-to-face interaction with one another create shared expectations for behavior. But how does a virtual community like Blotanical create such shared expectations and teach them to new members? Here’s my sociological take on the shared expectations for being part of the community of “blotanists” (as members of Blotanical are called):

  • Blotanists should interact with other blotanists. New members learn this when they get a raft of “welcome” messages from more experienced blotanists and when they see that the first menu option for what to do with the message is “comment back.” This expectation is further reinforced by the point system that determines a member’s status within Blotanical; you get 1 point for receiving a message, but 2 for sending one.
  • Blotanists should read and comment on one another’s blogs. The same point system that gives you 2 points for sending someone a message gives you 3 points for “picking” one of their blog posts. And to pick posts, you need to look at them. You can also list another member or their blog as one of your “favourites,” and most picked and most “faved” blogs are prominently featured on the Blotanical home page. The expectations to read and comment on other members’ blogs is further reinforced by the next expectation.
  • Blotanists should reciprocate other blotanists’ positive notice of their blog. Remember that the reason most people join Blotanical in the first place is to find more readers for their blog (and Blotanical certainly does that!). Your blog gets even more notice when it is featured on the “most popular” lists, and you quickly learn that the best way to get people to pick your posts or “fave” your blog is to pick or fave theirs. This expectation of reciprocation is not a tit-for-tat; if someone faves your blog, you don’t have to turn around and fave theirs. But if you don’t fave their blog, you should reciprocate in another way – by picking their posts or leaving a comment on their blog or listing them as one of your favourite blotanists. The “pick” and “fave” systems also reinforce the expectation of interaction. When someone faves you, you get an automated email message notifying you of this event and suggesting that “You might want to head on over and thank them and possibly even get to know them.” You can also get a list of people who have picked your post, with each name accompanied by a link you can use to send the person a message thanking them.

Because Blotanical is not just a virtual community of gardeners, but a community of garden bloggers, new members also learn expectations for being a garden blogger, Blotanical style:

  • Blog posts should include photography, preferably the blogger’s own original photographs. Photographs are clearly rewarded over text in the pick system; photo-only posts can be very popular, but text-only posts almost never are. This makes a lot of sense because Blotanical is a global community and photos bridge the language barrier. Photos are also easier to “read” quickly. This expectation may create some tensions, however, for those who think of themselves primarily as garden writers.
  • Bloggers should post regularly. This does not necessarily mean every day, but others should be able to count on your posts appearing often. Those who do not post regularly may find that others stop visiting their blog (and, remember, those visits are the reason they joined in the first place) or they may receive solicitous messages asking them if they are ill.
  • Garden bloggers should promote other garden blogs. Most Blotanical members include both a link to Blotanical on their blog and a listing of other garden blogs that they read or recommend.

This post has already violated the expectations for how long blog posts should be, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of the fascinating social world of Blotanical. There is so much more I could say!

Not everyone who lists their blog on Blotanical becomes a blotanist, a member of the virtual community. While some become very actively involved, others treat this simply as another blog directory. I am currently doing some systematic research to learn more about what differentiates those who become true blotanists from those who do not. Watch for another post about this when I have some results.

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. October 18, 2009 7:07 pm

    hi Jean! greetings from your Blotanist neighbor 🙂 very nice post. i’m still trying to slowly get my arms around Blotanical, but i’m learning a bit more day by day. i’d definitely recommend it for gardeners of all abilities to get out there and meet some fellow gardening kindred spirits.

  2. October 18, 2009 9:51 pm

    Jean, this post is very helpful. I had to watch the tutorial to learn how to “pick” it because I feel it is extremely informative, especially for newbies like myself who have recently joined Blotonical. Thanks for sharing your Sociologist self and these insights.

    • Jean Potuchek permalink*
      October 18, 2009 10:23 pm

      Thanks so much. I really hoped that Blotanical newbies would find this helpful, and I’m delighted to hear that was true for you. -Jean

  3. October 18, 2009 10:10 pm

    LOL Jean, I read your whole post, word for word. Sometimes I do skim, but found this one interesting enough not to. I go through spells where I’m more active some times than others. Enough time goes by, that when I get to picking, I earn enough points to be on the most active in the last 24 hours list.

    I have known some bloggers awhile, and now that they’ve joined blotanical, they are getting more comments, and at least one, I’ve noticed has changed her writing style to be a bit more social. I like her writing either way.

    I am interested in seeing how involved you get.

  4. October 18, 2009 10:28 pm

    This is one of the best descriptions of Blotanical that I have read. I am learning slowly, but gaining more confidence every day.

    Thanks for sharing.~janie

    • Jean Potuchek permalink*
      October 18, 2009 10:35 pm

      I’m so pleased about the positive feedback this post is getting. I really worried that it was much too long for people to stick with it, but I couldn’t figure out how to cut it down any more. Thanks. -Jean

  5. October 19, 2009 2:40 am

    Very impressive and interesting post Jean!

  6. elephant's eye permalink
    October 19, 2009 10:52 am

    I can see you haven’t visited Poor Richard’s Almanac. Ourfriendben posts every day, sometimes twice, and as one of his aggrieved ‘readers” said “all these words” There you will find no photos! I love it! Do bring us more. We like words …

  7. Yan permalink
    October 19, 2009 12:55 pm

    Very astute summary. Like others I read every word and didn’t notice the lack of photos. I’d be interested in your follow up post on what makes a true blotanist. Yan

  8. October 19, 2009 4:43 pm

    Jean, well written and composed observations regarding the Blot. It truly gave me food for thought and your post voiced some opinions I have developed myself.Thanks for taking time to write this post. Well done and I look forward to a follow up post.
    Scott

  9. October 19, 2009 7:06 pm

    Jean, as you know, I am a new “Blotanist” and I found your post very informative, (as I find your blog). I am looking forward to what makes a Blotanist, I would like to be one. LOL
    Interesting about the pictures, I fell I can be to wordy sometimes, (like my 3 message comments, LOL).
    Deborah

  10. October 19, 2009 7:08 pm

    Jean, Such a well-written, well-thought-out post. It clearly and succinctly describes Blotanical interactions. I’d never have thought of all that you presented, but am glad to know it now.

  11. Ali permalink
    October 20, 2009 10:05 pm

    Hi Jean,

    This was an interesting post, as a veteran blogger who is still trying to figure out how to best interact with Blotanical, I appreciated the sociological frame. BTW, I suspect we may have met many years ago, having a friend in common, Sharon K.

    I blog at Henbogle, mostly about vegetable gardening, but my topics are far ranging, or others might say, unfocused. Say hello if you stop by.
    Ali

    • Jean Potuchek permalink*
      October 20, 2009 10:22 pm

      Thanks for being in touch, Ali. BTW, Sharon featured in my Oct. 2 post, “The Gardening Book that Changed My LIfe.” -Jean

  12. Jean permalink
    October 31, 2009 10:00 pm

    I am going backward. I commented on your ‘About Me’ statement before I read this post. Sometimes I am just all over.

    Your length was offset by the absence of photos, which take longer to load than text. I found a far-back News page in which Stuart addressed similar points, including loading time as affected by the number of posts, size and number of photos,
    what I call ‘trinkets’: embedded music, fancy backgrounds and other sidebar accountrements.

    It would be interesting to know the backgrounds of bloggers as to whether they used computers for work, only for pleasure, in academic settings, and for how many years.

    • Jean Potuchek permalink*
      October 31, 2009 10:13 pm

      Thanks for the suggestion about asking about computer experience. Right now, I’m just following a set of a little over 100 newbies for two months and noting some basic info about them that I can glean from blogs and plots and how involved they have gotten in Blotanical at the end of 1 month and 2 months. But, I may follow this up with some kind of questionnaire that I’d ask a selected group to fill out on line. Of course, at some point I’m going to have to spend less time “blotanizing” and get into gear on the research project that I actually got this sabbatical from teaching to carry out! (sigh) -Jean

  13. November 23, 2009 8:25 pm

    thanks so much for posting this – sometimes it is so hard to figure out new things- this was very clearly written! I just came upon my “messages” and was thrilled to see so many! I have only just started blogging, but love to share my garden with others.

    • Jean permalink*
      November 23, 2009 9:00 pm

      Gillian, I’m so pleased that you found this helpful. I’ll look forward to “seeing” you around Blotanical.

  14. November 28, 2009 11:11 pm

    Hi Jean – Super-well done! I love that you are offering this link to newbies -good job! I linked it to my blog – Gloria

    • Jean permalink*
      November 29, 2009 10:55 am

      Gloria, I suppose it’s the teacher in me that wants to make this information and analysis available to Blotanical newbies. I am so pleased that you found it helpful enough to pass along to others.

  15. June 23, 2011 2:03 pm

    Being a new member myself I am finding it very difficult to sort out what’s what. So far the other members have been very friendly and I think it could be a great community to join in with – if only I could find what I am looking for whilst on the site.

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